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VIDEO: Cause of death of blue whale beached off Liverpool unknown

LIVERPOOL, N.S.  -A blue whale that washed ashore near East Berlin, Queens County, this week could have been dead for two months or more.

According to the Marine Animal Response Society, the young, female blue whale was found May 2 and the Liverpool Department of Fisheries and Oceans offices alerted the non-profit organization.  

The approximately 20.8-metre-long whale has probably been dead for at least two months, MARS response co-ordinator Andrew Reid said in a phone interview May 3, as its corpse was spotted off Port aux Basques, N.L., earlier this spring.   

The Gulf News reported March 21 that a beached, baleen whale carcass had washed out to sea near Port Aux Basques, NL.

“It’s a young blue whale – blue whales are an endangered species in Canadian waters,” Reid explains. “We think there’s about 250 mature adults.”

Female blue whales mature to be approximately 22 to 24 metres in length, he said, a little larger than the Queens County whale.

“Anytime we see a dead blue whale, it’s a blow to the population. (This is an) additional blow because this is an animal that could have had calves to help the population.”

A dead whale that briefly washed ashore near Port aux Basques, N.L., in March is believed to be the same animal found in Liverpool this week.

MARS was able to link the animal to the sighting in Newfoundland - as well as off of Sherbrooke and Sambro, N.S. -  by her unique markings.

Ventral grooves – folds on a baleen whale’s throat – form a unique pattern on each animal, Reid said.

“It took some effort, but we were able to match up that pattern to the animal off of Port aux Basques and the other sighting off of Sherbrooke.”

Reid said reports of dead blue whales are quite rare in Atlantic Canada; the last one was spotted off western Cape Breton, but drifted out to sea, he added.

Two whales were found beached in western Newfoundland in 2014 and the skeleton of one of the animals is part of a new exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

[Exhibit of western Newfoundland blue whale will be more than just bones]

It is possible the skeleton of the animal found this week could also be part of “preserving our natural history,” Reid said.

“We're currently working with DFO and other partners to determine if a necropsy is possible so we can try to figure out what happened to this young female,” the society said in a Facebook post.

“We’d ideally find out about the cause of death, whether it was related to human activities on the water or if it was a natural death,” Reid said.

Any signs of disease or any injuries to the animal’s skeletons could yield clues.

Whether a necropsy is possible might depend on the state of decomposition and on whether the animal can be moved to a beach allowing better access for heavy equipment.

“We’d bring in an excavator to haul off the blubber and muscle and help,” Reid said, allowing veterinary pathologists to examine the 60,000-kilogram animal.

“(We’re) dealing with an animal that has been decomposing for a few months,” he noted, adding to the difficulty – and the odour.

“Once you start opening it up, it’s a pretty terrible smell.”

If a full necropsy isn’t possible, Reid said baleen could be collected to help scientists study the animal.

However, no one else can remove parts of the animal or disturb the carcass without a permit because blue whales are protected under Canada’s Species At Risk Act.

The Marine Animal Response Society is a non-profit organization based in Halifax, N.S.

Video courtesy of Marine Animal Response Society. 


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